As­traZeneca’s big MYS­TIC tri­al ends a com­plete fail­ure as Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo flops on over­all sur­vival

Last year, As­traZeneca preached pa­tience af­ter ini­tial da­ta showed its check­point in­hibitor Imfinzi com­bined with their in-house CT­LA-4 drug failed to meet the pri­ma­ry end­point of pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival in a piv­otal lung can­cer tri­al. On Fri­day, that faith proved in vain as the im­munother­a­py al­so failed to im­prove over­all sur­vival in the keen­ly watched MYS­TIC tri­al.

The tri­al test­ed Imfinzi both as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with an­oth­er check­point in­hibitor, treme­li­mum­ab, against chemother­a­py in treat­ment-naive pa­tients with stage IV non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC), a cru­cial are­na in the bat­tle for check­point drug dom­i­nance.

The phar­ma gi­ant $AZN con­ced­ed Fri­day morn­ing that the com­bi­na­tion — once con­sid­ered a cor­ner­stone of As­traZeneca’s check­point de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy — ac­tu­al­ly per­formed worse than Imfinzi alone for the over­all sur­vival end­point, with a haz­ard ra­tio of 0.76 for the so­lo drug com­pared to an ane­mic 0.85 for the two to­geth­er.

Sean Bo­hen

While As­traZeneca’s pipeline has of­ten come up short, there have been a string of ma­jor suc­cess­es in on­col­o­gy for the com­pa­ny. This tri­al was con­sid­ered crit­i­cal in putting the brakes on the blitz­ing gains Mer­ck $MRK and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb have made af­ter es­tab­lish­ing their lead in the lu­cra­tive front­line can­cer field. The study was al­so tout­ed by CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot as an in­di­ca­tor of the British drug­mak­er’s val­ue as an in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ty, when it spurned Pfiz­er’s $PFE $118 bil­lion takeover bid in 2014

In a state­ment on Fri­day, As­traZeneca al­so sug­gest­ed that al­though sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance for over­all sur­vival had not been met, the da­ta mer­it­ed fur­ther analy­sis in ex­plorato­ry sub­groups. That’s not like­ly go­ing to in­spire much en­thu­si­asm.

Brad Lon­car

In MYS­TIC, “CT­LA-4 tru­ly of­fered no ben­e­fit or sig­nal at all”, said Brad Lon­car, man­ag­er of the Lon­car Can­cer Im­munother­a­py ETF. “I would think hard about these re­sults if I was one of the com­pa­nies out there de­vel­op­ing me-too or me-bet­ter CT­LA-4s (of which there are many). Giv­en its tox­i­c­i­ty pro­file and now the emerg­ing com­bo ef­fi­ca­cy we are see­ing in some of these can­cers out­side of melanoma, its win­dow is look­ing quite nar­row.”

As­traZeneca’s shares were al­so un­der pres­sure again on the fail­ure. Its stock is down more than 3% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing. Shares fell sharply last year on the PFS miss, evap­o­rat­ing some $14 bil­lion off the com­pa­ny’s val­ue.

Since that ini­tial set­back on MYS­TIC, though, As­traZeneca scored a big win with its PA­CIF­IC tri­al for Imfinzi, win­ning a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket niche for it­self in stage III NSCLC. But the fail­ure here will sting, nev­er­the­less.

Chief med­ical of­fi­cer Sean Bo­hen spot­light­ed the suc­cess on the monother­a­py side, but con­ced­ed the key fail­ure:

We are en­cour­aged to see that Imfinzi monother­a­py ac­tiv­i­ty is in-line with that of the an­ti-PD-1 class in pre­vi­ous­ly-un­treat­ed pa­tients with Stage IV non-small cell lung can­cer; how­ev­er, we are dis­ap­point­ed that these re­sults missed sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance. We re­main con­fi­dent in Imfinzi as the cor­ner­stone of our IO pro­gramme and con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate its po­ten­tial in on­go­ing non-small cell lung can­cer tri­als, in­clud­ing Imfinzi and Imfinzi plus treme­li­mum­ab in com­bi­na­tion with chemother­a­py.


Im­age: Pas­cal So­ri­ot. AP IM­AGES

How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

De­nali slips as a snap­shot of ear­ly da­ta rais­es some trou­bling ques­tions on its pi­o­neer­ing blood-brain bar­ri­er neu­ro work

Denali Therapeutics had drummed up considerable hype for their blood-brain barrier technology since launching over six years ago, hype that’s only intensified in the last 14 months following the publications of a pair of papers last spring and proof of concept data earlier this year. On Sunday, the South San Francisco-based biotech gave the biopharma world the next look at in-human data for its lead candidate in Hunter syndrome.

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Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

UP­DAT­ED: Pan­el of neu­ro­science ex­perts lays out the com­pli­ca­tions with us­ing Bio­gen's new Alzheimer's drug

Treatment of early Alzheimer’s patients with Biogen’s new drug Aduhelm should closely resemble how the drug was studied in its pivotal clinical trials, according to new recommendations from a panel of neuroscience experts led by UNLV’s Jeffrey Cummings.

“Those considering aducanumab therapy should understand that the expected benefit is slowing of cognitive and functional decline; improvement of the current clinical state is not anticipated,” they wrote Tuesday in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, noting that some of their recommendations are more specific or more restrictive than the information provided in the FDA’s prescribing information.

Christophe Weber, Takeda CEO (Kyodo via AP Images)

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One of a suite of drugmakers looking to reinvest in the neuroscience space, Takeda has been aggressive in signing on new partners to help build up its pipeline in that space. But sometimes the best partner is the one you already have.

Takeda will set aside $3.5 billion in future milestones and an undisclosed upfront payment to build out its drug discovery deal with Japanese peptide conjugate maker PeptiDream, adding neurodegeneration to the partnership’s list of CNS targets, the companies said Tuesday.

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George Yancopoulos, Regeneron

Re­gen­eron's lat­est ge­net­ics dis­cov­ery hooks As­traZeneca — now all-in on de­vel­op­ing small mol­e­cules for obe­si­ty

Just weeks after its widely lauded genetics research arm tagged a promising new target for obesity, Regeneron has signed up an industry heavyweight to collaborate with on developing new drugs that can potentially act as a game-changer in what has proven to be a tough field for developers.

The Regeneron Genetics Center published a paper in Science at the beginning of this month highlighting how their work sequencing the genomes of 650,000 people highlighted how people with at least 1 inactive copy of the GPR75 gene weighed on average 12 pounds less than the rest of the population with a 54% reduction in risk of obesity.

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